A war of words has broken out between Maryland and Virginia over which state can claim ownership of a popular delicacy, crabs.
Last week, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said during a radio interview that Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, which have long been considered an integral part of Maryland’s cuisine and culture, should more accurately be called “Virginia crabs,” as they hatch in Virginia waters.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan took exception, saying in a statement that while blue crabs may be born in Virginia, “Like most Virginians with any sense, they eventually come north and become Marylanders.”
Bill Goldsborough, fisheries program director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that McAuliffe’s assertion has a basis in fact.
“There is only one crab population in the Chesapeake Bay,” Goldsborough said. “In the summer, you’ll sometimes see what are called doubler crabs, two crabs clinging to each other. When a female crab molts, male crabs detect its pheromones, cling to it, and mate with it. In the early fall, mature female crabs travel to the high-saline waters at the south of the bay. All of the spawning takes place in Virginia waters, but winds and currents bring most of the eggs back north.”
Goldsborough said that crabs have been traditionally associated with Maryland because the saline content of Maryland waters, particularly in bodies such as the Wye River, are conducive to growing large crabs. For this reason, large male crabs are popular in Maryland, while “she-crab” soup is popular in Virginia.
Some merchants also took issue with McAuliffe’s statement.
“The taste of Maryland-caught crabs is a lot better than that of crabs caught in Virginia,” said Yen Lee, general manager of Bethesda Crab House. “The low salinity in Maryland waters makes our crabs taste a lot sweeter.”
Jonathan Boston, manager of Nantucket’s Reef in Rockville, said that for his patrons, crabs’ state of origin is generally insignificant.
“It’s actually only for the last two weeks that we’ve been serving Chesapeake Bay crabs,” Boston said. “When I tell people that we have Maryland crabs, they appreciate it, but it doesn’t really sway them to order them rather than anything else on the menu. I was ordering my crabs from Texas before, and I actually thought those were better.”
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to tie them to one state,” said John Rowe, a seafood enthusiast who has lived, worked and dined in both Maryland and Virginia. “I haven’t really noticed any significant difference. How the chef prepares them is also an important factor in the taste.”
Goldsborough said that policymakers in both states should be touched by the better angels of their nature.
“Because there is only one crab population in the bay, the two states absolutely must cooperate,” Goldsborough said. “We can’t have Maryland doing its own thing and Virginia doing its own thing. We all have to work together to ensure the sustainability of the bay.”